If you like street art you probably have heard about Clet Abraham right?
This French-born artist who lives in Florence, Italy since almost 9 years now has gained some international recognition even if he started only a few years ago in 2010.
At that time (after 20 years of living around Italy), he wanted to find a way to express his art and started to work on simple figure with clear outline design. But in a town where every piece of wall is protected, it’s not so easy to practice street art! But as every problem has a solution, he came up with a clever idea, working on a medium he could use without changing the aspect of the city: road signs. They were the best surface to use and most of all, they where everywhere, in every city, all around the world. As a genius graphic designer he started to use road signs as visible and clear way of expression, creating pictures that could be easily seen without changing much the symbols themselves as, of course they still need to be understood by drivers. His most popular picture is probably the black man holding the white bar from the no-entry sign. But he has created plenty of other designs and tries to come up with more and more new ideas and designs.
The first time I captured some of his work was in 2011 in Paris. Week after week I saw more and more stickers around the French capital and then later they were in London as well when I moved there. Every time I could see one new road sign I took a picture, adding it to my collection of memorable street art. As he doesn’t sign his work I found out eventually his name on Internet and since then started to follow what Clet was doing, especially on his Facebook page.
That’s how I discover that he was in London for a couple of days mid-november. I was curious to ask him a few questions about his art and even most curious seeing him in action. I managed to get in touch with him and at my big surprise he accepted to meet for a diner. So cool! When you think that Banksy don’t even show his face, I was really pleased to see that some other behave normally and that I had a chance to get glimpse into the street art world.
The meeting was in Borough Market, close to London Bridge from there we went to a nice pub having of course some typical English food with beer. For a couple of hours I asked him questions and discovered a bit more about him. So far he is the only street artist working on road signs, making his work different and original from the others. He works mostly by night when there are less people around and that he can quietly pick the spots he likes. In Florence people recognize him but here his face his still not famous. He says that if some people see him while he is working usually they are friendly and that he never had any problem so far, even with the police. He did say that police caught him in action a couple of times but he succeed to explain his work and leave without problem. Indeed street art is illegal and between artist and vandalism the gap is thin.
In London he tried to make his work visible and close to emblematic buildings such as the Gherkin, the London Bridge or the Shard. I was surprised that he went to places such as Chelsea, which is a quite posh and rich area where usually street art is not seen at all. He replied that working on road signs instead of walls give him much more freedom, as they are everywhere. He is not dependant on some areas, which tolerate street art, but can practice wherever he wants to. Of course he has been to Brick Lane and Shoreditch to be part of the vibe and the urban seen there, but he also enjoyed going to place where street art is normally totally prohibited. This is why you can see Clet’s stickers in the heart of the financial district, the City of London or as mentioned in some rich residential area such as Chelsea. He assume and like the idea of doing something illegal as the question is what is illegal and why? And it turns out that some illegal rules are just made up by society but don’t have any negative aspect as why being creative should be wrong? The debate is of course endless but allowed some reflexions on what’s right, what’s wrong.
After the diner I could briefly follow him and see him in action, he posted a few stickers around our area while I was taking a few pictures. Usually he works alone and can make from 50 up to 80 stickers in one night. He doesn’t follow a road map or a specific route, he just like to stop where he like the area, select the stickers he wants to use and with some agile movement he climbs on the pole and applies the sticker on the surface. In a few seconds the road sign has turned into a piece of art. Clet has a workshop in Florence where you can see some other designs but what he enjoys may be the most is creating sculpture and performance.
Meeting him was great fun, I’ll keep looking as you’ll do now, for new art around Europe! He has already been to Paris, London, Amsterdam, Brussels and a lot of cities in Italy, with the only regret that he can’t show his art in Venice but as everyone knows… There are no roads there as no road signs either. Let’s suggest him to come to Reykjavik instead for his next town!
Text and pics by Emmanuelle Bluman